Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The "fix is in" on energy bill

As they would say in the old movies, “It looks like the fix is in!”

As amazing as this may seem, the House Rules Committee – the official gatekeepers of activities on the floor of the House of Representatives – is refusing to permit a vote on the dirty-air plan devised by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and inserted into the energy legislation that will be debated on the floor of the House this week.

You will recall that the Barton bad-air plan would encourage potentially long delays in meeting national smog standards by saying a state would not have to meet the standards until states upwind of it do. The Barton bad-air plan – sought by the National Association of Manufacturers and other polluter lobbies -- could mean more than a million extra asthma attacks and other health damage caused by smog. It is a glaring example of the special-interest provisions in the energy bill that will mean more environmental harm without reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

As we reported yesterday, a bipartisan coalition led by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Tom Allen (D-ME) and Chris Shays (R-CT) drafted an amendment they planned to offer on the House floor – to strike the bad-air provision from the energy bill.

But late last night, the House Rules Committee declared it would deny them the opportunity for a vote. There was no explanation for the decision. (The Rules Committee operates a little like the Vatican Conclave, though these days it spews out little but black smoke.)

The committee is chaired by Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) and is generally viewed as under the close control of the House Republican leadership. The appearance here is that the House Republican leadership is closing ranks to support the Barton bad-air plan sought by big corporate polluters.

Why are House Republican leaders so afraid to even permit a vote on the dirty-air plan? (They are apparently going to argue an amendment on this topic is “not in order.” If so, why is this bad-air plan in the energy bill to start with?)

The Rules Committee is permitting votes on a number of issues, ranging from tax subsidies to make ethanol from Hawaiian sugar cane, to a study about using mustard seed as a feedstock for biodiesel. (No kidding. The entire list of “approved” amendments is at http://www.house.gov/rules/109rulehr6.htm)

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